The Sid Abbruzzi Interview

‘We are just scrappy poor, but we do it. We skate. We surf.’

Sid Abbruzzi
New England Surf & Skate

June 2024

You are cited as ‘The most famous surf shop owner in the world’ in beachgrit.com. Do you feel this is pretty accurate?
In a weird way. If you had your ear on the street, you have heard of Water Brothers, but we are not making any financial gain out of this. We are just scrappy poor, but we do it. We skate. We surf. I was fortunate enough to have my little shop right on the beach from 1971 to 1993 where we had a quarter pipe and where we built a mini ramp. Tony Hawk and the Bones Brigade showed up and Christian Hosoi, Jason Jessee, Monty Nolder and their teams from the heydays. We got to be pretty known. We were constantly involved in it. Where people skate or surf, we were there and never behind a desk in an office.

In the same article they called you ‘Part animal―Part machine―Part idiot’. If you agree with these labels, can you tell us why they are a true reflection of who you are?
Some people say doing it this long, you gotta be an idiot. Yes, I think it is true. I am fortunate with my health. I came back after a total hip replacement 5 years. I was skating right until I was 52 which was 20 years ago. That was not really happening back then. Now you have guys in the 50ies and 60ies that are ripping. When I was 45, it was uncommon for people my age to still doing it. When I started surfing or skateboarding, there was no skateboarding. We brought the whole sport with us. When I started surfing, there was not one person that was over 21 years old that surfed. I started skateboarding first when I was 9 years old by using roller skates. Breaking it in half and putting it on a piece of wood. My mum would go to Providence and come back with a complete skateboard with clay wheels. We were selling skateboards before Indie trucks. We had Oak Street trucks, Chicago trucks. I was also selling boards where you had to drill the holes for the customer. That was a nightmare. To carry one step further, Rhode Island, the smallest state in the union, also is the home of Road Rider wheels. The first precious skateboard wheels were made 30 minutes up the road from my house that were eventually swallowed up by NHS Santa Cruz.

Sid Abbruzzi • Larry Bertelsmann slide • New Hampshire • 70s
You opened your Surf shop in the early 70ies, knocked off power from a neighboring bar and put in a Half Pipe in the backyard and labeled it as Boy Scout type of activity to pass it through the landlord.
This is how we got insurance. That was sketchy.

Is there anything you did which you now regret?
Maybe partying a little too much. I do not regret anything in my surfer/skater career at all. I went out without a nickel to my name. We had our shop on the beach but thrown of it which was heartbreaking. We went up the street to a regular store front and I was spotting a space to put our ramps in the backyard. We would always look out for street obstacles. When there was no surf, we would go into the city on a Sunday because back then businesses were closed. Riding park lot, garages, pools, banks. We were like the parallel of the Dogtown crew. We never looked what they were doing. We were naturally doing it ourselves. Fast forward I would become friends with Alva and those guys. I was very fortunate for my desire to skate and surf.

Can you give us a glimpse of those legendary Extreme Games after parties which you held at your shop in 1995?
The first X Games party was in my backyard with my mother on the first floor. The Brazilians were bringing cakes over. There were hundreds of people in my backyard with helicopters flying over our heads. There were fights. Tony Hawk was in the backyard. A couple of people made him drink out of a beer bong. That was the first one. The second one was at the apartment above our shop. The entire block was going crazy. The police came and broke that one up. Danny Way, Colin Mackay, Jason Ellis, the Papas brothers. They were all there. Chris Markovich. It was all the classic stars in their heyday.

Any girls?
I remember they put all the skaters in the dorms at this Girl Catholic School. I got a couple of phone calls right away from guys like Kareem Campbell and Danny Way asking about hotels. Those guys were making money. The Brazilian kids that were young and hungry and skaters from other countries that have not yet made a name were happy for the free accommodation. They even build ramps on the campuses. It was a crazy, crazy ten days. Then we did Skate Island which we were very fortunate with that.

‘This is how we got insurance. That was sketchy.’

Please take me through this.
We moved the shop from the beach to the regular store front. It is 1998. I was looking at this warehouse with 30,000 square feet but I had no money. A kid working in the shop for me. His parents wanted to partner up with me. At first it was a great relationship. The park started out at 7,500 square feet and it went up to 25,000 feet. Huge park. Tony Hawk showed up a ton of times and he put it in Playstation 3. Look it up on YouTube. You will see the park as it was apart from the pirate ship they added. It was super cool. It lasted for about 8 years. We developed around 8 or 9 pros that were little kids from Boston and New York. They would come with their mother and camp the whole weekend. It became a skater’s destination like a surfer going to Hawaii. Vert ramp, bowls, giant street course and all indoors. Fun people. Scottish kids showed up. At one stage we had like 20 of them in Newport. Skater Island changed lives for the better. We took in kids from the poorer section of town that had nothing.

You never carried big surf brands in your shop. Did you follow the same principles with skateboarding?
In a way that is true. We were not really Powell guys. We were the Alva guys. Good friends with Jason Jessee. He got in trouble. That happened a long time ago. Let me tell you something.

Just last week. I was at Santa Cruz. A girl name Holly Anderson which is number 3 in the Santa Cruz chain of command. She started out as the snowboard Team Manager in the 90ies and is with Santa Cruz for 25 years now. We went to Santa Cruz Canary which is like a museum. Amazing. Amazing. The size of a giant basketball court with thousands of everything they build hanging on the walls. It is a skateboard haven. They started a hallway snake run that you walk through and you see the history of skateboarding through their eyes. However, they took all of Jason boards, his history, stickers. He admits he was an idiot what the Swastika and using the N word. There is a bunch of kids these days that bring down quoting celebrities. They are going into their past and they do it to anybody in the public eye. So, Converse dropped him and NHS/Santa Cruz did too. Holly is a good friend of mine, and it was not her call. The boss made the decision to take him off the history books.

You are also described as the Godfather of New England surfing.
Surf and skate.

(Laughing). That was my question. Who is the Godfather of New England skating?
I am the godfather for both surf and skate.

Who would be your second choice?
It depends on what area of New England you are talking about. Also, some guys are either a surfer or a skateboarder. When we used to go to the skateparks in Bostin in the 70ies, Jake Phelps the editor of Thrasher. Legendary Jake Phelps worked behind a counter in a skate shop. He was the first generation 100% skateboarder. He did not give a flying f about surfing. The teenagers in the 70ies made skateboarding separate and having their own individuality.

So, Jake would be the Godfather of just skateboarding?
I think so, but he left at a young age to go to San Francisco. Kevin Day is a legendary skater from Boston. I would say he is the Godfather of skateboarding. We had a great company called Flight Skateboards out of Newport in the 70ies. All the boards were made in our garages. It was really fun.

Is there anything in the surfboard community that is missing in skateboarding?
In this town Newport is the access to go skateboarding. Newport is an island. We have beautiful beaches here. 80% of the surfers in this town are out of the area. We are missing a place to go skate. No contests. No organization in either surf or skate.

Is there anything in the skateboard community that is missing in surfboarding?
Camaraderie. Friendship. Skaters love to skate with skaters. Surfers don’t want anybody in their run. I rather be on a ramp or on a street course next to the kids sitting there than sitting in the water with a bunch of miserable people that don’t want you to catch waves in the first place. In skateboarding you push each other. Skateboarding now was like surfing in the 70ies where everybody was supportive and cheering each other. Today it is like ‘Who are these guys. Get them off the beach.’ Skateboarding is fun.

‘It became a skater’s destination like a surfer going to Hawaii.’

Dune • 5-0 • Skater’s Island •1999   © Sean Keenan

Is skateboarding/surfboarding in a better or worse place to when you first opened up your shop in 1971?
Skateboarding is in a much better place. Better equipment, first of all. More areas to skate and ACCEPTED by the public. There are not as many ‘no skateboarding’ signs up. They used to arrest you for skateboarding on the street. You also have a great support system where all your friends are jazzed up and excited. Everybody is supportive of each other. In surfing you are not getting that vibe at all. I said this in my Water Brothers Documentary, you are not paddling out and two hundred people are clapping for you and watch you catching every wave and rip. It is really in a tough spot. People giving each other bad vibes. The beginners have no respect in a lot of times of the locals or the better surfers. Also, about 70-80% who surf in Newport do not even life here. The overcrowding is a real bad situation. It’s everywhere. Every local you will talk to around the world will tell you the same thing. Overcrowded and no respect. The new batch of surfers are not even kids. They are middle aged adults that picked up surfing after Covid.

Do you think talented surfers in New England can make a living staying at the East Coast or do they have to move out West?
Great question. Kelly Slater came from Coco Beach, Florida. I remember him when he was 8 years old. We had a house down at his dad’s fishing shop. He was a natural athlete. Came from an area where there was no surfing like Hawaii or California. Started traveling. Became Kelly Slater. 20 years ago, surfers have become golden children in California. They are home schooled. Their mum and dads take them to the beach at 8 in the morning. In Australia, there are surf academies. Australia is the leading place for Surf Academies where they train you to become a professional surfer. The day of becoming naturally talented and making it on talent alone without the help of money, sponsors and stuff is possible but boy, it now sounds impossible to pull it off. I went to California 10 years ago and I was traveling with a family with 3 sons. One of them is in the Top 32 of the world right now. Halfway through the 12 contests, they cut it in half to Top 16 and add another few people on the tour from the following year. In other words, there are 20 open slots a year to make it on the World Tour but there are thousands and thousands of surfers. To become a professional surfer today you have to drop out of school, you have to get home schooled, you have to travel, and you cannot be in a town like Newport, RI. I do not know how you make it in skateboarding anymore.

‘Skaters love to skate with skaters. Surfers don’t want anybody in their run.’

Let’s talk about your full-feature documentary ‘Water Brother: The Sid Abbruzzi Story’. Who came up with the idea?
Listen to this. We have two miles of vintage footage. We have skateboarding footage from the 70ies. You will love it. We always had Super8 cameras. Kinnane brother produced and directed it. There are a total of 8 brothers. Their first movie ‘Home Team’ was produced by Adam Sandler starring Kevin James. This project was sitting on their shelf for a bit. It is a passion project for them. I grew up surfing with their dad. It is a mix of surfing and skating right down the middle and is being aired at various film festivals.

In the movie trailer you said you had ‘wasted days and wasted nights.’

What was the turning point to choose a healthier lifestyle?
I used to keep a diary of my running, skating and surfing to keep me focused when I was not. I would skate the ramp, surf the whole day. I would party that night and the next day and pass out. I hit a streak when I was about 55 when I played Warp Tour with my band. When the band stopped, I was drinking a little bit too much to the point where I drank in the morning to get rid of the hangover. I went to Hawaii for the first time, believe it or not, 11 years ago. I was 63 and saw people my age in perfect shape. It was a bit like a wakeup call and I stopped drinking. I was three years sober when I met my wife. I would not have met her if I continued my drinking. I was very fortunate. Also, you are only as good as last time you surfed or skated. I skated and surfed like shit, and I could not wait to get back out there trying harder again.

Anything the ‘Package’ does not have that he wished he possessed?
I got the name ‘Package’ from a friend of mine because at the time I surfed, I skated and I was in a Rock’n’Roll band. To answer your question, I am really content. I am not successful by any means. I have a beautiful wife and family. My brother is healthy. My mum lived a long life. My friend Jerry built this shed for me to replicate the old shop. I can talk to friends like you. I am happy. People say money does not buy happiness and it doesn’t.

Last question. If you could interview a person, who would it be and why?
There is an Australian friend of mine called Derek Hynd. I met him Jeffrey’s Bay in South Africa. He is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. He has one eye because of surf accident. He lives in Byron Bay. I find him one of the most interesting people in the world. So, you go and find Derek Hynd. He is a crazy dude. He surfs without fins now.

I found Derek and this is what he says about you.
“I don’t know if water has found its own level here but I’m pounding Sid’s comment straight back. It’s all about fire with reason, start to end. I point blank know Sid as a brother this way and I can’t think of anyone off hand as relentless. The love and faith people have in a human like Sid to not change one fucking thing is rare earth in 2023 the way it probably was in 1023 and 23 A.D. before that.”
– Derek Hynd

‘I am the godfather for both surf and skate.’

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